The World Cup qualifier has not been a walk in the park for Mexico. After six games, El Tri has only one victory (away), and five draws—three at Estadio Azteca, one more in Honduras and one in the United States. Even so, they have eight points and sit third in the general table, enough to qualify for Brazil 2014.
Two more wins, against Honduras and Panama at the Azteca, may secure them a ticket to the World Cup. But, how will the team do in South America?
Every Mexican would love to see El Tri lift the World Cup, but to be honest, that is something that will not happen in the near future.
What they can achieve, with hard work, is something that no other Mexican squad has done outside the country: qualifying for the quarterfinals.
Mexico has advanced to every round of 16 since USA 1994. In that year, Miguel Mejia Baron’s boys lost to Bulgaria in penalty kicks, a curse that has chased the team for a long time.
In 1998, El Tri was close to the overtime, but a superb header by Oliver Bierhoff was enough to send Mexico back home.
Many thought that the feat could be done in Korea-Japan. USA, the archenemy, seemed to be the perfect rival to achieve it. But Brian McBride delivered a tough blow in the seventh minute, followed by a header by Landon Donovan that buried El Tri.
Germany 2006 was full of hope. The team came from a fantastic performance at the 2005 Confederations Cup and the expectations were high. However, Jose Pekerman managed to hold off Mexico’s pressure, and with a brilliant volley by Maxi Rodriguez, El Tri failed to advance.
Four years later Argentina sentenced “Los Verdes” again. Perhaps the only difference from how they did it in Germany was the forcefulness with which they beat Mexico this time.
Now, with Brazil only nine months away, El Tri has yet another chance to make it to the quarterfinals.
By the way the squad has been playing, it seems like a tough task. However, this is one of the most talented groups of footballers the country has had.
For the first time, there are 11 Mexicans playing in four of the most competitive leagues in the world: Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio), Hector Moreno (Espanyol), Diego Reyes and Hector Herrera (Porto), Jonathan dos Santos (Barcelona), Javier Aquino (Villarreal) and Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad), Andres Guardado (Valencia), Nery Castillo (Rayo Vallecano) and Javier Hernandez (Manchester United).
From those 11, eight are regulars with El Tri and have played at least once in the 2014 World Cup qualifier.
Add some key players from the Liga MX, like Jesus Corona, Hiram Mier, Jorge Torres Nilo, Fernando Arce, Angel Reyna, Oribe Peralta and Raul Jimenez, and the squad should be very strong.
If we focus on football, there should not be any problems in reaching the quarterfinals. However, there is always the mental side and that is Mexico’s Achilles' heel.
History tells us that El Tri toughen up when facing world-class teams, such as Brazil, Germany or Spain.
For instance, they won the 1999 Confederations Cup against Vanderlei Luxemburgo’s “Verde-amarela”; six years later, in the same tournament, they gave the hosts a tough time in the third-place match; and in 2010, just after the World Cup, they drew with Spain in a friendly match.
The younger generations have taught us that the mentality is changing, though. Remember the 2005 and 2011 U-17 World Cups. Mexico won both in style. The same thing happened last year at the Summer Olympics.
Some of those kids are already in the senior squad; others may soon get a chance to prove they belong, mainly because some footballers are not at their prime anymore, like Gerardo Torrado, Carlos Salcido and Francisco Javier Rodriguez.
Mexico can get past the round of 16, that is a fact. These players are experienced and can accomplish a lot more than those who played on the national team in 1994 and 2006.
And suddenly the expectation is not that high. It is, in all fairness, reachable.